by / September 8th, 2011 /

Electric Picnic 2011: Beirut & Pulp

Beirut – Main Stage

Dusk is falling on the final day in Stradbally and revellers are weary, and a little bit woozy – a perfect combination for the music of Beirut. Zach Condon has just released his third LP. Cultured by his trips around the Balkans, France and Mexico, The Rip Tide is somewhat somnolent but striking in measured maturity and restrained grandeur. There are concerns over Condon’s performance, and they are not unwarranted. In the past it has been shambolic, a young man intoxicated by the follies of youth. But Condon is now an ancient 25, and his live presentation as stately as his recordings. The singer’s yodel on ‘Nantes’ is faultless, perfectly pitched and unwavering. Clattering percussion along with mandolin, trumpet, trombone and all manner of horns against the setting sun are a ticket straight out of Ireland – if just for an hour; though Condon loves Ireland, according to him everyone in Albuquerque does but he doesn’t know why, as he takes another swig of Jameson. (Yes. Cliché. But sure with an Irish surname, we’ll let him off.) ‘The Shrew’ incites a kind of Mexican square dance, most convincingly by a group of Frida Kahlo impersonators. New songs ‘Sante Fe’ and ‘East Harlem’ are shining in melodic glory, while ‘My Night With The Prostitute From Marseilles’ is transformed from bedroom synth-pop to a hollering ramshackle ballad. Swaying like drunkards in a French tavern, the crowd at the main stage soak up the last of the day’s sunshine and the fanfare couldn’t be more suitable – ‘A Sunday Smile’, we wore it for a while.

Pulp – Main Stage

Pulp’s decision to get back together was just another in a string of vintage acts reforming “to finish business”, “to say farewell” or “for the fans”. But Pulp have always been guileless in their intentions: Jarvis Cocker, Nick Banks, Candida Doyle, Steve MacKey, Russell Senior and Mark Webber were hitting the festival circuit, and they were taking a shining canon of pop with them.

It’s all glamour, hips and sex from the get-go. From behind laser dolphins, Sheffield’s art-poppers open with ‘Do You Remember The First Time’. The backdrop: ‘90s nite-glo spelling out P.U.L.P, in a setting that makes a festival main stage look like a plush ‘70s Vegas club. To the fore: Jarvis Cocker vaulting about stage, all angled limbs and dramatic jazz-hands. Instantly, everyone is 10, maybe 20, years younger – if Pulp haven’t got any older the surely we haven’t, right? ‘Something Changed’ and ‘Help The Aged’ are reflective of this: “try to forget that nothing lasts forever.” The poignancy of ‘Babies’ (the best indie pop song ever written?) is that babies is a place in life that many original Pulp fans are at. Not that that’s what the song is about, it’s about getting your leg over of course – just let Jarvis explain. You see, Jarvis likes to talk. A lot. His between-song banter is like a dry rehearsal for his Radio 6 show – thick accented, deadpan Northern England wit; somewhere between unabashedly banal and uproariously insightful. He’s chatty, funny, serious, political, flippant and still fully invested in the songs of Pulp.

‘Lipgloss’ still has a seedy allure, sparkling in an electric wall from Banks, Webber and Mackay. Russell’s violin sounds even more drugged out. Candida’s two-fingered key playing is iconic, the rousing synth are a call to everyone who is ‘Sorted For Es and Wizz’: “20, 000 people standing in a field”, or thereabouts. ‘Disco 2000’ pulls us back into pulsating club land, how can a song so over-played never become stale? And that’s not to mention the greatest unifying celebration of all, ‘Common People’. Jarvis is both philosophical and matter-of-fact about their last ever show together, to the point that it doesn’t feel like a goodbye. Far from being a run of greatest hits, Pulp’s set (and career) is a master class in timeless sophisticated pop.

Here’s the full gallery of Sunday at Electric Picnic in pictures by Damien McGlynn.